David McGillivary and Walter Zerlin Jr.'s spoof of a group of incompetent society women staging an atrocious adaptation of Dickens' classic, The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society's Production of A Christmas Carol, both lampoons and pays homage to the people who make up "the theater." On the one hand, the playwrights lampoon the sort of clumsy, dimwitted people who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a stage; on the other, it revels in the nervous excitement and whacked sense of community that attract so many to that stage.
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Because this play is inhabited by characters who don't realize how abominable their production is, a deft comedic hand and speed-of-light pacing are needed from the "real" director and cast to compensate for the play-within-a-play's horrific acting and haphazard production values. While Wade Williamson's direction is often inspired —his staging of Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past flying through the air has to be seen to be believed—there's too much downtime between the flurry of jokes; his cast winds up missing two targets for every one it hits.
The acting is uneven as well, with most of the cast swallowed by the cavernous depth and length of the Brea Curtis Theatre's stage. Only Joan Neubauer's control-freak narrator, Mrs. Phoebe Reece, and Shelly Frasier's bandaged, nearly crippled Mercedes seem at ease playing bad actors. Instead of disappearing into their roles, the rest of the cast tips its hand, winking at the audience as if to say, "I'm not as bad an actor as the character I'm playing."
Despite those reservations, the Vanguard should be applauded for programming a holiday alternative free of hip, reactionary cynicism and for keeping ticket prices reasonable. That's something to be genuinely thankful for this holiday season.
The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society's Production of A Christmas Carol at the Vanguard Theatre Ensemble at the Brea Curtis Theatre, 1 Civic Center Dr., Brea, (714) 526-8007. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. $7-$15.